To Break the 15% Barrier, Do More Than Open The Door

Women account for half the workforce, but only 15 percent are engineers. To break the glass door, companies are rethinking strategies for support and retention.
Written by Anderson Chen
July 12, 2022Updated: July 13, 2022

Since the turn of the last century, feminist movements have sought to equalize standards of living for women. At the ballot box, the medical clinic, the corporate office and beyond, the progressive waves of the 20th century crested in recent years with the likes of #MeToo, Women’s Marches and 23.7 percent representation in Congress. Calls for change were similarly extolled by tech companies, but internally, a different story unfolded. 

Women account for half of the STEM workforce in the US. Yet papered over the facade of statistical equity is its undercurrent of unequal representation within specific fields. Among those working in computer occupations, only 25 percent are women, a marked decline from 2000 to 2016. And within that sliver of minority representation, only 15 percent are in an engineering role — a one percent increase from the last five years. 

The good news is that companies are taking measures to rectify this cycle perpetuated by the status quo.Many employers have built guardrails and support systems in place at the recruiting level — unconscious bias training, diverse interview panel, screening for yes — in an attempt to widen the funnel. But the solution demands a less myopic approach when it comes to the top-down homogeneity pervasive in engineering. 

Beyond addressing gender inequity upstream, retention of women in engineering is a churning sieve. Nearly 40 percent of women with an engineering degree leave or never enter the profession, according to the American Psychological Association. “In my experience, some women are less likely to ask for what they want and may undersell themselves,” said Guild Education’s Tessa Morse, director of software engineering. Leaders like Morse are intentional about highlighting the competencies and growth of an often underserved population within the tech industry. 

To address this technological gap in DEI platforms, progressive companies are baking holistic parity into every level of their operations, from leadership visibility in representation and executive engagement for women, to pay transparency and generous parental leave policies. As important as it is to open doors, companies are actively curating a work culture where women don’t feel the need to keep one foot outside those doors. 

“One thing female developers want is not to be seen as a woman engineer but rather as just an engineer,” said Reagan Smith, product support manager at AdCellerant. To the women in engineering roles that Built In Colorado talked to, that’s not a big ask. Equipped with innovative recruiting practices and empowerment by design, their companies are investing in an untapped demographic market — and working to leave the 15-percent barrier in the past. 

 

Tessa Morse
Director of Software Engineering • Guild

 

Guild Education is a Career Opportunity Platform with a focus on unlocking opportunities for American workers. The women-led company helps connect employees with forward-thinking employers to access education and training programs to succeed in the future of work.

At Guild, expanding opportunities for its own workforce is a priority as well. According to Director of Software Engineering Tessa Morse, “Women make up almost 60 percent of our C-Suite, more than 58 percent of our people managers and 33 percent of our board of directors.”   

 

Describe your recruiting efforts to get more women into engineering roles at your company.

At Guild, we are passionate about closing the gap for women in technology. I’ve seen first hand the difference in internal culture when gender is more fairly represented. It is often said that this focus starts at the beginning of the funnel, and this is certainly true. However, while recruiting plays an impactful role in the diversity of candidates, more has to happen to truly make a difference.

For my team, it has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach. This includes hiring managers performing direct outreach and fellow engineers submitting referrals from their networks. We also post roles across various social platforms and share our diversity metrics internally for parity and transparency. During the interview process, we make sure our interview panels reflect the diversity of our team, and ensure that candidates have the opportunity to meet with our female engineers. As a director, I voice our team’s needs clearly and often. Above all else, for these efforts to truly be effective, the process involves meticulous planning and lots of patience.

 

What makes your company an attractive place to work for women in engineering? 

Guild exemplifies the power of visibility when it comes to women in leadership. Our company was founded by women and we have a diverse group of people throughout. In engineering, you are never the only woman in a Zoom room — oftentimes you might be in the majority, and the level of respect and humility across gender boundaries is something I’ve never experienced before at a tech company.

Not only is our leadership reflective of our gender parity across the company, but we also pride ourselves on embedding processes, tools and practices that make for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

Above all else, for these efforts to truly be effective, the process involves meticulous planning and lots of patience.”

 

Once you hire women in engineering positions, how does your company support them? What other policies are in place to ensure an equitable and safe work environment for employees?

The most important way to live out support for women at our company is through transparent and equitable pay, which ensures visibility and equality across all departments. The one thing equitable pay doesn’t do is advance or set women into the correct role or level that fits their skill set.  In my experience, some women are less likely to ask for what they want and may undersell themselves.  While I encourage everyone to be their own greatest advocate, it’s also important for leaders and managers to be proactive and consistent with each person on their team when analyzing the growth and professional development of each individual.

At Guild, we use a competency matrix that outlines expectations at each level within engineering, and each employee evaluates themselves — with the help of their manager — to know where they are and where they have room for improvement. This ensures that while we have pay equity, we are also removing biases and promoting women into positions of greater responsibility and leadership throughout the organization. Just as we work to unlock opportunity and career mobility for America’s workforce, we aim to uphold the same mission for our own employee base as well.

 

 

PointsBet banner with a football player
PointsBet

 

Aparna Sundaram
Director, Solution Delivery – Machine Learning • PointsBet

 

Pointsbet is a sports betting company originally founded in Australia. The online bookkeeper has a proprietary “PointsBetting” platform that offers accuracy-dependent winnings and losses in addition to fixed-odds bets. With an exclusive integration partnership with NBC Sports for American football, the company aims to disrupt the US sports betting industry. 

Internally, the company also wants to set new DEI standards. “Sports betting has been a relatively male-dominated industry,” said Aparna Sundaram, director of solution delivery in machine learning. “However, we believe innovation and disruption cannot happen without diverse thinking and talent.”  

 

Describe your recruiting efforts to get more women into engineering roles at your company.

For entry-level roles, we partnered with Women in Sports Technology (WiST), whose mission is to provide growth opportunities for women in this field. Our first WiST fellow joined us this June for an eight-week internship program. She is working in a team environment, to learn from and contribute to a machine learning-based software engineering project. Along the way, she’ll be getting one-on-one mentorship, help in resume building and access to the PointsBet network. This experience will help her future career with us or any other company. 

For more experienced roles, research shows that most women feel they need to meet 100 percent of the criteria listed for job applications. Hence, we try to ensure our job postings do not have endless lists of requirements and unnecessarily strict seniority demands. Also, our recruiting team watches for potential unconscious bias during screening and sets up a diverse panel for interviews to ensure female candidates’ profiles are fairly represented.

 

What makes your company an attractive place to work for women in engineering? 

PointsBet is a growing company, so the opportunity for career growth and development is immense. Our culture is exciting and very collaborative. With sports betting being a relatively new industry in the US, it gives women the opportunity to shape the future of products, the company and the industry itself. You are likely to get involved in a wide range of tasks, which gives you the opportunity to learn, explore different parts of the business and develop your skills to become a well-rounded individual. 

PointsBet provides opportunities for women by inviting them to take on new and challenging areas of work. Speaking from my own firsthand experience here, I have been able to manage higher levels of responsibility, which have allowed me to learn by succeeding, as well as failing, in a safe environment. As a result, I have developed more confidence, broadened my social network and enhanced my profile in the company. 

With sports betting being a relatively new industry in the US, it gives women the opportunity to shape the future of products, the company and the industry itself.”

 

Once you hire women in engineering positions, how does your company support them? What other policies are in place to ensure an equitable and safe work environment for employees?

We have an active and vibrant women’s network at PointsBet. There is a Slack channel where women share their experiences, and can reach out to the community with questions or for help. When women join my team, I usually pair them with other women on the team to help them with onboarding and navigating their way through their first few months. This way, they not only have a go-to person, but they can also understand PointsBet’s culture from a woman’s point of view. 

PointsBet has also established a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee that comprises members from within the organization and recognized leaders in the DEI space. The goal is to promote and celebrate diversity and inclusion through open discussions, social gatherings, workshops and cultural events. These initiatives help create a space that fosters respect, facilitates communication and provides all employees with the opportunity to learn about, discuss and ask questions on issues pertaining to inclusion and belonging.

 

 

Emily Gibson
Director of Talent Acquisition • Red Canary

 

Red Canary is a cybersecurity company that offers outcome-based solutions for the security operations team of clients. With a focus on management and detection response, the company’s security platform covers operations from monitoring to testing and validation. 

Red Canary calls itself a security ally, but it also demonstrates allyship with women in engineering positions. According to Director of Talent Acquisition Emily Gibson, they lead the cybersecurity industry in hiring, with 30 percent of women overall, 29 percent of which are in leadership roles.    

 

Describe your recruiting efforts to get more women into engineering roles at your company.

At Red Canary, we’ve made hiring more women a priority in engineering and across the entire company. Along with proactive targeted sourcing and interview panel representation, we share details about salary scales with candidates early on in the interview process, demonstrating our efforts toward transparency and pay equity.  We also regularly feature women as contributors to the Red Canary blog and as part of our “Get to know a Canary” series on LinkedIn.  

 

What makes your company an attractive place to work for women in engineering? 

We also conduct quarterly diversity dashboard reviews where we review our company diversity landscape and dive into any patterns of attrition or hiring.

Red Canary has a popular Women in Security group that meets at least quarterly, with casual conversation happening on a daily basis in a devoted Slack channel. We are also proud to have women in key leadership roles across the organization. Our director of threat intelligence Katie Nickels has received both the SANS Difference Maker Award and the President’s Award from the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu for her efforts to improve diversity and equity in the industry. Katie is one of the many Canaries who frequently speak at conferences, teach courses at SANS and provide quotes to national media outlets.

Inclusion is an integral part of our culture.” 

 

Once you hire women in engineering positions, how does your company support them? What other policies are in place to ensure an equitable and safe work environment for employees?

All engineering roles at Red Canary are remote or hybrid, giving women flexible working hours and the ability to strike a healthy work-life balance. We offer unlimited PTO, and after six months of employment you are eligible for eight weeks of paid leave per year to be used in the event of a birth, adoption or foster care placement. In addition, the birthing parent will receive four additional weeks of paid leave per year. Parental leave can be used all at once or intermittently over the course of a rolling year. 

We do our best to ensure that all Canaries have a clear path toward promotion and other career advancements. Every employee receives an annual discretionary budget along with a separate budget for technical training and other career development. Senior Software Engineer Julie Brown first joined Red Canary on the detection engineering team, and she now leads a key project with a lot of autonomy and trust from leadership.

Inclusion is an integral part of our culture. We provide unconscious bias and interview training for managers, and we have an anonymous reporting tool as well as multiple other ways to report and escalate any concerns.

 

 

Reagan Smith
Product Support Manager • AdCellerant

 

AdCellerant offers digital advertising service through partnerships with media companies and agencies, as well as a full-stack, white label marketing platform. But the company knows that it takes more than a good product to rally the team. 

DEI policies matter, and AdCellerant works to ensure that the voices of the women in engineering roles are supported — from recruitment to promotion. “They say there is strength in numbers, and I am constantly inspired and surrounded by several strong, hard-working and incredibly talented women,” Reagan Smith, product support manager, told Built In Colorado about her work experience. 

 

Describe your recruiting efforts to get more women into engineering roles at your company.

Recruiting and retaining women in engineering roles doesn’t just happen; our efforts are deliberate. Whenever we conduct interviews with female candidates, we believe it’s essential to inform them how much respect each of us receives from the team and the company. I assure candidates that I feel comfortable and have a voice among my peers and leaders. 

Additionally, we make an effort to have female employees on the engineering team involved in the interview process to let the candidate know they won’t be the only ones and have a robust support system they can count on.

 

What makes your company an attractive place to work for women in engineering? 

I believe what makes this an attractive place to work for women in engineering is that we receive high visibility — cross-departmentally and among our executive team. It also helps that there is a strong female presence at our company. They say there is strength in numbers, and I am constantly inspired and surrounded by several strong, hard-working and incredibly talented women. There’s something to learn from each of them every day. 

Our efforts are deliberate.”

 

Once you hire women in engineering positions, how does your company support them? What other policies are in place to ensure an equitable and safe work environment for employees?

One thing female developers want is not to be seen as a woman engineer but rather as just an engineer. AdCellerant delivers with this practice. Not only do you receive support from the company, but you get to work directly with your manager or executive-level individuals who continually put you in positions to succeed. There is also the opportunity to get on-the-job training, take advantage of professional development opportunities or attend conferences. 

 

 

Katie Clayman
Sr. Talent Acquisition Specialist • BillGO

 

BillGO is a fintech platform that offers an all-in-one bill management and payments solution. As part of the mission statement, the Colorado-based aims to improve the financial welfare of its customers with a more approachable and efficient way of handling recurring bills. 

To ensure equity and inclusivity in its product, BillGO is partnered with My Blind Spot for accessibility compliance. Internally, it promotes the same core value by using gender neutral language to encourage women to apply to the company, regardless of the perfect fit. 

 

Describe your recruiting efforts to get more women into engineering roles at your company.

Recruiting efforts start with good job descriptions. We are also involved in diversity programs such as Grace Hopper. As someone on the talent acquisition team, we focus on screening for yes, like talking to almost any woman who applies or looking for competencies versus experience.

 

What makes your company an attractive place to work for women in engineering?

I think our company is attractive to anyone in engineering. Our product is scaling, so there are many areas to influence, create and develop. 

 

Attributes Welcomed at BillGO

  • Accountability-driven: mindful of commitments and does what they say
  • Continuous learner: an innovative mindset and driven by the desire to create a better tomorrow
  • Empathic listener: seeks to understand before judging or jumping to conclusion
  • Firm believer: works hard, plays hard, focuses on the positive and celebrates the wins together
  • Highly collaborative: believes ideas can come from anywhere and doesn’t care who gets the credit
  • Self-driven problem solver: comfortable with ambiguity and passionate about making an impact

 

Once you hire women in engineering positions, how does your company support them? What other policies are in place to ensure an equitable and safe work environment for employees?

Our intention is to hire and promote. We have a system called Real Time Align to enhance our culture, support each other and provide an opportunity to get aligned on a consistent quarterly basis.

We lead by example, by encouraging all women to move into leadership roles within our company.  Our DEI group is focused on bringing diversity into the mix, ensuring everyone feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to earn promotions. 

 

 

Emily Hereford
Corporate Technical Recruiter • Procare Solutions

 

Procare Solutions is a software provider that offers child care management and parental engagement solutions for businesses such as daycare and afterschool programs. By integrating technological services into one platform, the company makes it easier for clients to handle basic logistics and have more bandwidth to focus on more important operations — taking care of children. As a corporate recruiter, Procare’s Emily Hereford sees technical talent as a priority for her software-focused team. “Hiring the best technical talent is a top priority in this job market,” she said. “This includes a focus on hiring more women in our engineering roles.” 

 

Describe your recruiting efforts to get more women into engineering roles at your company.

The company is actively sponsoring events like Women Impact Tech with a specific focus on networking and hiring women engineers in the Denver area and across the U.S.

 

What makes your company an attractive place to work for women in engineering? 

Our CEO is a woman and we have women in leadership roles at all levels of our company. I believe this is attractive to women looking to grow their careers as it is easy to see that there is opportunity for women throughout our company.

We have women in leadership roles at all levels of our company.”

 

Once you hire women in engineering positions, how does your company support them? What other policies are in place to ensure an equitable and safe work environment for employees?

We first make sure that all employees, regardless of gender, are paid fair, competitive and equitable wages. This helps ensure that there are no disparities in pay. In addition, Procare takes an active interest in career development. We recently launched a new program which provides the tools and resources for employees to work directly with their manager and establish an individualized career development plan. We believe that this program will help elevate the skills and capabilities of our workforce while providing the opportunity for employees to grow their careers.

 

 

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